The Indefatigable Jabez Mugford

“One of the few men of whom it can be said that he was the friend of all, but enemy of none”[1]

Malcolm Billinge 2018

The Early Years

Jabez Hearn Mugford was born in Bovey Tracey in 1830. His father John was a shoemaker and in 1841 John, his wife Ann (née Sercombe) and ten year-old Jabez were living on Main Street [now called Fore Street] along with siblings thirteen year-old Elizabeth and seven year-old William, as well as fifteen year-old Elizabeth Stranger who was a milliner.[2]  In 1844 John Mugford’s father was the proprietor of ‘Sampsons’ although this was unoccupied at the time.[3]

Sometime after 1841 Jabez went to live with his paternal uncle, William Mugford, Inland Revenue Inspector, in Camborne, Cornwall where, along with several cousins he, ‘received an education superior to that of most lads of his position in life in those days, and for which he had ever after cause to be thankful.’ [4]

At the time of the 1851 census Jabez, then a twenty-one year-old carpenter, was living on East Street with another uncle, blacksmith Joseph Daymond.[5] His widowed father John was living with an aunt on Fore Street, as his mother Ann had died in 1849 when Jabez was only nineteen.

The Bovey Pottery

In 1843 the ailing Folly Pottery was revamped as the Bovey Tracey Pottery Company by John Divett and Capt. Thomas Wentworth Buller who, being impressed by Jabez, ‘found a berth for him at the Potteries, which he filled with satisfaction.’ Jabez helped to engineer the Pottery leat from near the Becky Falls to Pottery Pond, and he also managed the Spur Works at the Pottery. [6]

Capt. Thomas Wentworth Buller died in 1852 and his son Wentworth William took his place as co-owner of the Pottery and the nearby lignite pit. Wentworth and Jabez established a partnership based around the Buller patent for ‘cockspurs and stilts’ which were small, spikey ceramic pieces used to separate vessels when they were stacked in kilns to be fired (Fig.1) These were made at the Spur Works at the Pottery that Jabez managed, and in 1857, ‘A complete apparatus for manufacturing gas  for lighting the Spur Works’ had recently been installed under the superintendence of Jabez, ‘the indefatigable manager of the works’, and the first lighting was celebrated by Wentworth Buller giving a tea for all his workmen. [7]

Figure 1. Spurs and Stilts from Bovey Tracey Gardens. Malcolm Billinge 2017.


Wentworth William Buller also established a pottery business in Hanley, Staffordshire and Jabez helped with this new initiative. W. W. Buller Ltd. Co. became one of the world’s foremost electrical insulator manufacturers. In 1860 there was in Bovey Tracey a sale of ten horses and 130 hogsheads of cider because, ‘Mr Mugford’s business will, during the coming year, compel him to reside much in Staffordshire’.[8] This sale also indicated the entrepreneurial nature of the ‘indefatigable’ Jabez Mugford.

Jabez married Caroline Coombes in 1853 and by the time of the 1861 census she was described as a merchant’s wife, living at Belmont [now Ashwell] on East Street with his nephew a nephew Edwin Hill, and a servant.[9] We do not know if Jabez owned or rented this property but he lived there until at least 1891 and probably died there. In 1861 Jabez, however, was staying with Wentworth William Buller at his estate at Strete Raleigh, Whimple and that year there was a deed of co-partnership between Wentworth William Buller and Jabez Mugford, ‘to carry out the improved processes in the manufacture of earthenware invented by Thomas Wentwoth Buller, now deceased.’[10]

In 1863 Wentworth William Buller and Jabez were awarded a new patent for, ‘improvements in spur supporting rings for fixing plates, dishes and other like articles in glost ovens, dated Nov 28 1862.’[11]

Civic Responsibilities

In 1855 at the age of twenty-five Jabez was elected mayor of Bovey Tracey.[12]T his was a largely ceremonial position that was maintained through the annual ‘Mock Lord Mayor’s Day’ or ‘Mayor’s Monday’ that involved the local gentry riding around some  Bovey Tracey boundary stones before enjoying a festive dinner with speeches complimenting national institutions and local worthies. At the 1858 ‘Mock Lord Mayor’s Day’ Jabez took the chair supported by John Divett, Wentworth William Buller and other prominent local gentlemen. The Bovey Pottery was the foremost local industry (apart from agriculture) and John Divett, living at Bridge House, Bovey Tracey was an important figure in town until his death in 1885. ‘The lady mayoress [Caroline Mugford] gave a ball on the following evening.’ [13]

The 1859 ‘Mayor’s Monday’ featured a different mayor but Jabez delivered a speech in which he argued for the rights of commoners to be respected when the new railway was to be established [it opened in 1866]. Jabez noted that he had been connected with the Pottery for sixteen years, that is  since Buller and Divett took over in 1843, and he was full of praise for Capt. Thomas Buller and John Divett. [14]

There was a grand fete on the Bovey cricket ground in 1860 and, ‘The proceedings were carried out in a most satisfactory manner by Mr Jabez Mugford, the manager.[15]

Jabez was mayor again in 1861 and there was more talk about the coming railway which would be crossing Bovey Heathfield.[16] Later that year Jabez attended a meeting in Moretonhampstead that was called to discuss the new railway.[17] Jabez was a shareholder in the Moretonhampstead and South Devon Railway Company and he attended an Extraordinary general Meeting of shareholders at the White Hart, Moretonhampstead in 1863.[18]

Despite his rather humble background, Jabez was clearly comfortable in the presence of higher-status gentlemen and he was present in 1863 at the Conservative Banquet at Newton Abbot which many of the local gentry were also in attendance. [19]

Jabez, now ‘High Bailiff’ was at the 1863 ‘Mayor Choosing’ at which one participant declared that, ‘Mr Mugford possessed so many distinguished abilities that it was impossible he say too much in his favour (Great applause) followed by the company singing ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’.[20] Jabez was an enthusiastic champion of the railway, the new vestry room at the parish church, a new town hall and a gas supply for Bovey Tracey that was eventually established in 1881.[21]

In 1864 Jabez was sworn on the grand jury at the Devon General Sessions showing that he was considered to be a gentleman of high standing.[22]I n the same year Jabez used his standing in the local community to better the town, ‘through the indefatiguable exertions of our worthy mayor and churchwarden, Jabex Mugford, there is a probability of very shortly seeing the site of the ruins, now used for a market place, occupied by a handsome town hall.’ The town hall was duly built that year.[23]

In 1884 he was chairman of the Borough Court when it heard presentments about property matters.[24]

Licensee of the Union Inn

Whilst managing the Spur Works and also carrying out civic duties as mayor of Bovey Tracey, in 1860 Jabez acquired the license for the Union Inn in the centre of Bovey Tracey.[25] Two photographs illustrate how the Union Inn, now the Cromwell Arms, has changed over time (Figs.2 and 4).

Figure 2.  Part of the Union Inn is on the left of the back row. David Lewis Collection

Fig. 4.  Cromwell Arms, previously the Union Inn. Frances Billinge 2018.

The ‘Mayors Monday’ dinners were held at ‘Mugford’s Union Inn’ as was the 1864, ‘Annual Public Dinner’ at which Caroline Mugford superintended the cooking.[26]

Transport in those early days was by horse and cart or carriage and in 1864 a horse attached to a brougham belonging to Jabez outside Newton Abbot railway station took off up Station Road, up Wolborough Street and collided with the turnpike gate damaging the carriage but not the horse.[27]

Jabez developed this business to be The Union Inn Family and Commercial Hotel and Posting House.[28] With the opening of the railway in 1866 and increasing opportunities for tourism he offered, ‘four-in-hand, breaks, wagonettes and carriages for pleasure parties visiting the scenery of Dartmoor Hills.’[29]

At the time of the 1871 census Jabez, aged forty-one, licensed victualler, Caroline forty-two and Jabez’ sister Elizabeth Hill, forty-three were still living at Belmont on East Street with three servants. Jabez’ father John was now described as a retired farmer was living on Fore Street.[30]

In 1873 Jabez advertised the Union Hotel premises for lease, and the sale of his horses and carriages.[31]

Jabez as a hotel keeper had in 1867 become a member of the Newton Abbot Lodge of Devon Freemasons. Other hotel keepers were also members. [32]

Timber Merchant

In 1872, one year before Jabez left the Union Inn, there was a fatal accident to one of his employees who was loading timber at Lustleigh railway.[33] In 1874 Jabez was assaulted in an altercation on a train and when this went to Court he was described as a timber merchant.[34]

Jabez had become a partner in the West of England Steam Saw Mills, Newton Abbot, a business that involved buying large stocks of oak, ash and elm timber and then offering this at annual sales held in Newton Abbot. The Mills were, ‘within five minutes’ walk of the railway station. Arrangements may be made to have all lots purchased loaded in railway trucks. The whole will be sold as on previous occasions, without the slightest reservation.’ This was the third sale, held in 1875.[35] Further, similar sales were recorded in 1877 and 1878 and again in 1880 and 1882.[36]

Jabez had many business interests and in 1879 Jabez, as a timber merchant, proprietor of saw mills, and manufacturer of clay preparing machines, sold equipment to John Divett for use in the Bovey Pottery. [37]

In 1880 Jabez was fined 10s for obstructing the highway at Mamhead with timber.[38] On the 1881 census Jabez, then aged  fifty-one, described himself  as a timber merchant.[39]

In 1884  Jabez of the West of England Steam Saw Mills was offering to clear timber blown down in the recent gale.[40]  In 1885 the partnership between J. H. Mugford and J. Wright, trading as J. H. Mugford and Co., West of England Steam Saw Mills, Newton Abbot  – steam saw mills proprietors and timber merchants was dissolved; as regards J. H. Mugford. [41] Jabez was moving on to yet another career, perhaps aspiring to be a ‘gentleman’.


It would appear that Jabez left the timber business in 1885 and two years before a local directory had recorded him as  ‘Mugford, Jabez H. & Co., Farmers’.[42] In 1871 his father, then seventy-six had described himself as a retired farmer despite having been a cordwainer/shoemaker during his working life.[43] Was this part of the family’s aspiration?

Jabez’ obituary in 1894 told how he had managed a large estate (un-named) and that the two owners (also un-named), when they sold the estate, each gave Jabez £2000, the equivalent of at least £132,000 today. [44]At some stage in, presumably his later career Jabez therefore found himself with a considerable sum of money which he could have invested in some new business venture. This could have been the South West Steam Saw Mills or possibly some farm land.

Jabez had been selling a variety of produce, as well as timber from the early 1870s but his occupational status as a farmer remains unclear. Amongst the many indicative press references are the following:

In 1863 Jabez, along with John Divett and William Hole was impressed by a demonstration of Beare’s (a foundry in Liverton) new threshing machine. This could indicate an early interest in farming techniques. [45] By 1865 Jabez was ‘in occupation’ of a linhay on William Hole’s land (Bullen’s Meadow)  and this was destroyed by arson by Joseph Sampson who was an anti-social customer at Mugford’s Union Hotel.[46]

Between 1873 and 1880 Jabez was selling livestock, hay, grass, turnips and apples from Little Bovey farm; from Church Style, behind the parish church; from Rockland’s Lawn near Chudleigh Bridge); from Manning’s meadow, Bovey Tracey; from Bell Orchard, East Street; from Bowden’s Bushes near Chudleigh Road railway station and North Whilborough Farm, Kingskerswell.[47] These transactions may have involved buying and selling with Jabez as an enterprising merchant.

However the October 1873 Little Bovey farm sale of livestock and hay by Jabez is interesting because in April of that year Mr Tapper was selling livestock and farming equipment as he was letting Little Bovey Farm.[48] It would appear that Jabez took on the tenancy but in 1876 he, ‘was about to give up Little Bovey Farm and was selling its livestock, machinery, hay, apples and mangle wurzels.[49]

In 1877 John Tapper was selling livestock at Pullabrook Farm and thirty-six acres of grass on Little Bovey Farm. These two farms had been closely linked from at least 1818.[50] John Tapper was also selling, ‘part of a rick of clover hay in Mr Mugford’s field on Bovey Heathfield’ and this confirms a relationship between these two men.[51]

In 1883 Jabez bought heiffers and bullocks at livestock sales at Aish and Gappah where he was listed as being from Pullabrook Farm.[52]

In 1885 Mr Fry was the farmer living at Little Bovey Farm when it, Bowden’s Bushes, Belmont ‘now occupied by Jabez Mugford’, and other properties were put up for auction. [53] But, in 1888 when Little Bovey Farm was again for sale viewing was through Jabez who clearly retained some interest in the property. [54]

The 1891 census recorded Jabez, 60 a farmer with Caroline a ladies’ boarding house keeper, two boarders, two visitors and one servant still living at Belmont on East Street.[55]

Near Little Bovey Farm stands Little Bradley Farm and Bradley House, built in 1854. In 1886 the tenant John Hodge advertised a sale of livestock and implements at Little Bradley Farm.[56]Jabez was also involved there in some guise, as in 1887 when Bradley House was to be re-let, particulars were available from Jabez.[57]

Later, in 1889 on the instructions of Jabez there was an auction of hay ricks at Little Bradley and nearby Reevescombe Farm, apples, some at Belmont, pigs, a cart mare, a cart, corn grinding mill, troughs, 4-wheel Phaeton upholstered in morocco with lamps complete, dog kennel.[58] Again, in 1893 there was for sale at Little Bradley, hay, clover, grass and apples, ‘the property of Mr J. H. Mugford.[59]

Kelly’s Directory of 1893 described Jabez as a farmer.[60]Jabez, as we have seen, maintained some direct interest in Little Bovey, Little Bradley and Pullabrook farms.

Jabez died in 1894 aged 64 and his funeral was in Bovey Tracey with him being buried at the Bovey Tracey cemetery.[61] Shortly before his death Jabez, being ill with bronchitis, was visited daily by The Hon. and Rev. Charles Courtenay. They were friends and Jabez was a parish church warden. Rev. Courtenay developed a chest complaint and died in October, and was buried three days before Jabez. Lady Courtenay also died, two weeks after her husband.[62]

Caroline Mugford née Sercombe

Little is known about Caroline apart from the fact that she supervised the catering at the Union Inn and later ran a boarding house for ladies of independent means at their home. The couple did not have children. As  Jabez’ widow Caroline died, aged seventy at Belmont in 1898.[63]

Neither Jabez nor Caroline appeared to have made a will and no details of their estates have as yet been found.


One time when Jabez perhaps fell short of his high ideals was when in 1878 Richard Day, commercial traveller and ex-proprietor of the Union Hotel, was summoned for assaulting Edwin Hill, a baker of Bovey Tracey at the Union Inn. Jabez was Edwin Hill’s uncle and Jabez was summoned for inciting Richard Day to attack Edwin Hill/ Earlier in the year Jabez had accused his nephew of turning Elizabeth Hill (sister of Jabez and mother of Edwin) out of the house, but this was part of a broader family feud..[64]

At John and Henrietta Divett’s golden wedding anniversary celebration Jabez was described as ‘An enterprising merchant of the very first water, and when John Divett died suddenly  in 1885, ‘a large crowd attended his funeral in Bovey Tracey and the arrangements had been entrusted to Jabez who was treated like a son by John.’[65] One highlight for him must have been his being chosen to address Princess Louise and her husband the Marquis of Lorne when they visited Bovey Tracey in 1873. The couple were staying at Powderham Castle, the seat of the Courtenay Earls of Devon.  Louise chose to come to Bovey Tracey to visit the Devon House of Mercy which was run by the Clewer Sisters who had been invited to establish their training school for ‘fallen women’ by the Hon and Rev Charles Courtenay, vicar of Bovey Tracey.[66]

Jabez Mugford led a very full and dynamic life and he made a significant contribution to the development of Bovey Tracey despite coming from a relatively humble background


[1] The Western Times 6 November 1894, p3.

[2] The National Archives 1841 Census.

[3] Bovey Tracey Land tax Assessment 1844, p.4.

[4] The Western Times 6 November 1894, p. 3.

[5] The National Archives 1851 Census

[6] Post Office Directory 1856, p. 40 spur works; The Western Times 6 November 1894, p. 3 leat.

[7] Exeter Flying Post 3 December, 1857, p. 5.

[8] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 16 June, 1860, p. 1.

[9] The National Archives 1861 Census

[10] Devon Heritage Centre 46222M/T/18 Buller and Mugford Deed of Partnership.

[11] Birmingham Daily Post 6 June 1863, p. 1.

[12] The Western Times 6 January 1855, p. 5.

[13] Exeter Flying Post 13 May 1858, p. 7.

[14] The Western Times 14 May 1859, p. 6.

[15] Western Morning News 29 May 1860, p. 2.

[16] Western Morning News 9 May 1861, p. 2.

[17] Exeter Flying Post 9 October 1861, p. 3.

[18] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 29 May 1863, p. 5.

[19] Ibid. January 1863, p. 6.

[20] Ibid. 8 May 1863, p. 7.

[21] Ibid. 11 March 1864, p. 8 vestry room; Ibid. 11 March 1864, p. 3 town hall; Ibid.26 August 1881, p.   5 gas works.

[22] Exeter Flying Post 24 February 1864, p. 8.

[23] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 11 March 1864, p3.

[24] Devon Heritage Centre 5595B Court Book Borough of Bovey Tracey 1884.

[25] Western Morning News 28 December 1860, p. 3.

[26] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 15 January 1864, p. 6.

[27] Ibid.8 January 1864, p. 6.

[28] Kelly’s Directory of Devonshire 1866, (London, Kelly and Co.) p. 734; Morris and Co’s Directory and Gazeteer of Devon 1870, (Nottingham, Morris and Co.) p. 461.

[29] Torquay Times, and South Devon Advertiser 25 December 1869, p. 4.

[30] The National Archives 1871 Census.

[31] The Western Times 25 July, 1873, p. 1; Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 7 November 1873, p. 6.

[32] Devon Lodge Freemasons membership

[33] North Devon Journal 3 October 1872, p. 6.

[34] Dartmouth and South Hams Chronicle 27 November 1874, p. 3.

[35] The Western Times 29 January 1875, p. 1.

[36] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 23 March 1877, p. 1; The Western Times 18 January 1878, p. 1; Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 18 June 1880, p. 1; The Western Times  17 March 1882, p. 1.

[37] Devon Heritage 4622M/T/21 Assignment Bovey Tracey Pottery.

[38] The Western Times 2 July 1880, p 10.

[39] The National Archives 1881 Census.

[40] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 29 January 1884, p. 2.

[41] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 17 June 1885, p. 7.

[42] Kelly’s Directory of Devonshire 1883, (London, Kelly and Co.)  p. 60.

[43] The National Archives 1871 Census.

[44] The Western Times 6 November 1894, p. 3.

[45] Western Daily Mercury 20 May 1863, p. 4.

[46] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 17 March 1865, p. 9.

[47] The Western Times 17 October 1873, p. 1 Church Style; Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 1 September 1876, p. 1 Rocklands Lawn; Ibid. 3 September 1880, p. 1 Bovey Tracey and Kingskerswell.

[48] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 4 April 1873, p. 1.

[49] The Western Times 1 September 1876, p. 1.

[50] Exeter Flying Post FP 19 February 1818, p. 1.

[51] Ibid. 14 March 1877, p. 1.

[52] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette and Dartmouth Times  20 March 1983, p.3 Aish; Ibid. 24 March 1883, p. 3 Pullbrook.

[53] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 12 June 1885, p. 1.

[54] The Western Times 4 May 1888, p. 1.

[55] The National Archives 1891 Census.

[56] East and South Devon Advertiser 20 November 1886, p. 8.

[57] Western Morning News 20 May 1887, p. 2.

[58] The Western Times 30 August 1889. P. 1.

[59] East and South Devon Advertiser 22 July 1893, p. 8.

[60] Kelly’s Directory of Devonshire 1893, (London, Kelly and Co.) p. 72.

[61] The Western Times 8 November 1894, p. 3.

[62] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 3 November 1894, p. 2); Bovey Tracey parish register Burials 1894

[63] The Western Times 31 March 1898, p. 1.

[64] The Western Times 13 December 1878, p. 7; Ibid. 31 January 1878, p. 3.

[65] East and South Devon Advertiser 28 April 1883, p. 4. Golden wedding; Ibid,. 26 September 1885, p. 8.

[66] Dartmouth and South Hams Chronicle 23 May 1873, p. 2; Janice Wallace, 2001. The Devon House of Mercy at Bovey Tracey 1863-1940, Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 191-216, p. 195.